Excerpts from "Days of Remembrance"Holocaust Memorial Program
April 17, 1988

edited by Renee Garrelick

Major speakers:
Father Robert Bullock, Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation
Anna Gerut, Auschwitz survivor

Eyewitness to History

Sponsored by the Board of Selectmen and presented by their designated liaison, the Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Council.

I'm Nancy Beecher, a member of the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Concord and I'm happy to welcome you here to the Town House for our Third Holocaust Memorial Commemoration in the Town House and the eighth in the Town of Concord. We as members of the Board are grateful to the Concord-Carlisle Human Rights Council and to the special committee who carry on this observance now on a yearly basis who help us to remember, and that's very important that all of us within the community and we who are involved in the day to day affairs of the town be encouraged to remember and be reminded. This is a good time of year to have that happening also in the Town of Concord because we've just been, we are in the midst of commemorating the events of the 19th of April 1775 a time in which here in this town began a strong statement, a strong stand against tyranny which was seen to be external tyranny. We are all gathered together to remember that tyranny and oppression occurred in many different ways within us and among members of the society as well as from outside and to be reminded to be eternally vigilant about that and against that. Thank you for coming and I'm glad now to welcome and appreciate Polly Attwood who has prepared this evening's gathering. Thank you Polly.

Thank you Nancy. Our first speaker this evening is going to be Mrs. Anna Gerut who is herself a survivor of the Holocaust and she would like to share a few things with us before we start with Father Bullock who will be speaking later. We are also fortunate tonight to have Mrs. Gerut's daughter Rosalie who will be drawing on her experience as the daughter of survivors with some compositions of her own and some songs. So now please welcome Mrs. Anna Gerut.

Mrs. Anna Gerut - I was born in Lodz, Poland. I come from a middle class family of eight. My parents were very well educated. My father was a scholar with two rabbinical diplomas. Our life was based on religion, education, honesty, and generosity. I and my sister were the only survivors of a family of more than 100 relatives. Last year I lost this precious, dearest sister too. What a tragedy this is for me now. I lost my family because they were Jewish. For us there is no happy ending and on every occasion happy or sad, I miss my family. I am now the only survivor of the once large Warszawski family. I took all the papers and pictures
with me to Auschwitz, everything is gone. After the war I was told that my uncle was in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. He was sent along with his family to Treblinka. Also sent to Treblinka were my father's sister and her husband with their three children.

Sorry that America did not take these beautiful people before it was too late. Everything is gone. What a loss. About myself I went through a horrible time in the Litzmanstadt ghetto, where I lost my family in 1942. It is easier to write a book than to live through one day in this ghetto where so many people died from hunger. For us to live through a day in the ghetto or concentration camp was a miracle.

The next hell was Auschwitz. It is a horrible and unbelievable story how to believe and understand for people who are not there. Hitler's motto was to get rid of the Jewish nation. My nightly dreams of horrors come constantly seeing the young members of my family suffering. It is very hard for me to write about and to relive these tragic times. My husband was in the ghetto and was then sent to Dachau. He lost his parents, brothers and sisters. Now he suffers from an incurable illness due to the suffering in his life.

Our story is like a drop in the ocean and cannot be told in one day or in one night. I remember my father telling us the story of Jewish slavery on Pesah. I never could have believed that I would be one of the tragic persons of Jewish history. I have to thank America for its freedom.

Polly Attwood - This year marks the eighth annual Holocaust memorial observance held in Concord. The third one that has been sponsored by the Town. It is also the fiftieth anniversary of Kristallnacht and the forty-fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. These dates and anniversaries are important to all of us. All of human kind must remember. All of human kind must face the responsibility for other people's dignity and welfare, past, present and future. Our speaker tonight Father Robert Bullock is eminently qualified to speak on our topic of the Christian response to the Holocaust. Father Bullock was ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1956 after receiving his B.A. and his M.A. He was involved a great deal in campus ministry and has been in various other colleges in this area for many years. From 1971 to the present he has served on the Catholic-Jewish committee in the Archdiocese of Boston. He served as chairman from '73 to '75. With the Danforth Foundation Father Bullock's research project was on the relations of Christians and Jews in campus ministry in the religious communities. His extensive research took him to many campuses throughout the United States, to Germany, to Poland, and to Israel. Father Bullock has led twelve interfaith trips to Israel. In April of 1983, Father Bullock served as the vice chairman of the seventh national workshop of Christian-Jewish relations. For several years Father Bullock has been involved in the Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation. In 1983, he served as vice president on the Board of Trustees and served as chairman from '85 to '86. And now he is going to speak to us on the topic of the Christian response to the Holocaust. Father Bullock.

Father Robert Bullock - The more you think about and ponder over and hear the stories the more inadequate becomes the normal categories of expression, words, thoughts, theologies, the more inadequate they become to express or to articulate the reality. We don't get better at it and the more you think about it, you don't get better at it. It's not like accomplishing a course or mastering a topic like in school when you get it like geometry. You never get it but the more you plunge into it the more incomprehensible it becomes. I think that this history, these stories, this event of our times makes us ponder as no theology does, the otherness of God, and the brokenness of humanity. So I think we proceed with just enormous care and caution about the subject we deal with and we try to think together about this, especially in terms of Christian response and Christian responsibility. How careful and honest and full of risk that enterprise is.

We're hampered by our words. I think Churchill was right he called it the crime without a name. How people are struggling with the name and how the Holocaust can be trivialized by the misuse of the names or the quick analogies or the yes, buts, or if like this, or if like that. To trivialize the event in the history to make it manageable so we somehow can put it into moral categories that we think we're able to understand. But we don't understand, and we can never understand. Socrates, twenty-five hundred years ago, said, "It is said I am the wisest of all the Greeks. If it is true that I am the wisest of all the Greeks it is that among the Greeks I alone know that I know nothing." and maybe he was using "to know" in different ways. To know intellectually, like this is Sunday night and to know in a sense of being totally involved in. The director of, the executive director of the Facing History and Ourselves Program was in Israel and she discovered in Israel that back in Brookline she had a relative who was a survivor, she didn't know her. After a long period of time, the survivor got in touch with Margo. The survivor's name is Rose. And they began to become friends, relatives, and Rose told her her story. She told her about the ghetto, about the terrible conditions there. She told her about her husband who was a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, about the concentration camps and the deportation, about the trains, about going there, about what it was like, about the different camps, about how she was able to survive, what liberation was like, how they came together. She told her her story. Later she called Margo and said "you think you know my story you know nothing." This is Rose. That's her husband.

Is anti-Jewish thinking endemic to the fundamental of Christianity? Somebody made the distinction between anti-Judaism, which is a denial of the Jewish past, anti-semitism, a denial of the Jewish present and anti-zionism, a denial of the Jewish future maybe a simple, over simple, but distinctions must be made for clarity of thought. There have been any number of ways of describing and defining anti-semitism and the ones who write about it the most seem to define it the least. Hannah Arendt who wrote a trilogy on the origins of totalitarianism, one section on anti-semitism, didn't even define it, it's as though she said this was the madness that got the whole thing going. Jean Paul Sartre said anti-semitism is a disease that people get. Martin said anti-semitism is the hatred Christians have for Jews because Jews tell Christians to be faithful to their moral tradition and Christians hate them for that. Jews are not saying be like us, be good Jews, but be good Christians take the moral burden of Christianity and put it on your backs. In Hungary during the war they used to say anti-semitism is hating Jews more than is absolutely necessary. The definition that we use in facing history is hatred of Jews and I'm sure there's not one person in this room who would think of himself or herself as a person who hates. Hate is not part of our acceptable categories or something we would assign to ourselves. By the terms of our program hatred is the hot or cold. Hatred can be fierce and vicious and cruel and vocal and outrageous and demonstrative, but it can also be cool and logical and deductive and socially acceptable. It is hatred as well to say you can't live in our neighborhood, you have the wrong God, you have the wrong biology. You are not part of our circle of responsibility. We have no responsibility for you. Jean Paul Sartre again said "The ultimate evil today is to make the concrete situation abstract." The analogy that's usually given is the bomber pilot pressing the button and the bombs fall down and the plane flies away and the village blows up, abstacted from the perpetration of the deed.

So hatred can be the constant use of those plural pronouns that make the other other and have no responsibility for them. The definition we use is hatred of Jews. Hatred directed toward groups.

What is the particular malice complexity of anti-Jewish thought by Christians? It is that we have made it a theology. God is involved. Christism in the fourth century said "God hates the Jews and always has." Augustine, the leader of Christian thought for a millenium has a list of accusations and the diatribes against Jews. Synagogues are houses of demons he said. He said Jews could be tortured in order to make them convert. You gasp for comprehension at the depth and the nature of anti-Jewish thinking among Christians. It is a theology, Jews are accused, stand accused of decide and of rejection. The other night a Roman Catholic nun contested that proposition. "I have never" she claimed, "ever been told that the Jews killed Jesus Christ." What nonsense, she had been told that on Easter Sunday. If she went to mass today, she was told that in the first reading again today. She was told that in the formal setting of a liturgy in which a lector took a book, a holy book, and read from the acts of the apostles, Peter's sermon. And the sermon said "You Jews, you killed him, you crucified him, repent of your crime." And at the end of that the lector in formal setting said "This is the word of the Lord." You will say I didn't hear that that way if you went to church today. I don't think of it in those terms, we don't have to think of it in those terms. Ninty-five percent of our thinking is unconscious. It enters in. Where do we get ideas like this? It enters in. It becomes part of the public consciousness. It is a theology about which we should gasp for comprehension to become alert to those subtle, lethal teachings of contempt and opposition.

Holocaust is a history of victims and victimizers and bystanders and the complicitors and a history of ideas. There are other histories to be in touch with. We have to be in touch with our own history.

Another point which I think is imperative for Christian thinking about the Holocaust would be to make it a clear distinction between guilt and responsibility. No one is asking people to be guilty although there were many guilty. Many were guilty as Elie Wiesel says but everybody is responsible. Guilt is not a virtue, I don't think anybody encourages guilt. Guilt happens, but when it happens for good reasons, it is appropriate. When it happens for bad reasons it's inappropriate and maybe neurotic, but guilt never is listed as a virtue in any kind of religious lexicon. There are guilty people, but everybody's responsible. There's a distinction between guilt and responsibility. The moral person today somebody said is a person who's responsible for everything that happens in the world. So the argument that this happened forty, forty-five years ago in another country, at a distant time, as dreadful as it might be, we have to get on with our lives is not a moral statement. The moral statement is the statement for responsibility and to find the variety of ways in which we must be responsible. So there's a distinction that must be clearly drawn.

No one claims that the morality is in numbers nor is there morality in the victims. A dead Armenian child in 1915 is just as much a tragedy as a dead Jewish child in 1945. The parents of that child and all the victims mourned just as deeply. Every life is of equal value. No one claims any differently than that, but what is different is the nature of the crime, the intent of the perpetrators and the nature of the crime itself. And unless that
distinction is drawn the moral reasoning is flawed and the moral conversation can't continue.

There are events of such import that nothing is ever the same again and everybody's involved. It's that kind of event we are in a different moral universe because of this crime that has been committed. The greatest demonstration of evil the world has ever known has been committed by the nature of this crime. We have gone beyond some moral failsafe point. We inhabit a new moral landscape, and just beginning to try to do the proper moral reasoning.

What is the human nature that we inhabit and we share? Not to have illusions about human behavior we always thought there were certain things human beings would never do. There were limits of human beings' behavior. The human heart was a break that would stop people from doing the most awful things. Now that proposition is not true. At the killing pits, where the people went and were shot, there is evidence that the killers had a high degree of emotional illness and there was alcoholism and a certain kind of depression, that there was never any want for people to do it and a lot of them wanted to do it. And the most chilling fact of all is that while many of the people who did these crimes and committed these acts were villains and monsters and sadists and sick, many of them were not. Many of them functioned normally in society in every other way. And many of them never were able to understand what people were talking about in terms of crime or killing. So we should never have illusions about human behavior that there are certain things human beings will not do or human types.

Nor should there be illusions about human institutions like churches and governments. The illusions that governments are on our side and would always take care of the people or the illusion that churches, or religious institutions or bureaucracies will always translate their life-giving message into activity for the people. Many religious persons acted well and did heroic things but many did not and churches did not. Many men and women, priests, ministers, lay people, in the name of church or religion were in prison and many died, no bishop did.

This may sound to be pious to you. We have to work at communities of faith and virtue, communities of belief and hope. We have to work at that. We have to have communities that lift people up and make them behave better than they normally would, not gangs or groups. What a terrible thing it is the way people behave in gangs and groups. People do things in gangs and groups they would never think of doing by themselves. We deal with that issue constantly in Facing History. In 1933 in Berlin, it was Rosh Hashana, and young Nazi thugs grabbed an old Jew coming out of the synagogue. They pulled him aside to the side street. And a group of them started to beat him with their fists and rubber truncheons while several others of their group stood around to make sure that other congregants did not come to try to stop them. And the writer says that is a theme that repeats itself over and over again in the Holocaust. The strong protecting the strong against the weak. And that is a theme that repeats itself over and over again in our classes, in our communities, in our
neighborhoods. We need communities, not groups, communities that pick people up.

We have to stop hating Jews. We've got to stop using religion against Jews. We've got to stop. Does anybody know The Lost of the Just? It is about Ernie Levy, one of the just and Golda. They are about to die. They are going to be carried off in this novel to a concentration camp, an extermination center, and they are hiding now because they fear it is about to happen to them. And they are talking quietly and hiding and she says "Ernie, you know them. Tell me, why do the Christians hate us the way they do? They seem so nice when I look at them without my star." Ernie put his arm around her shoulders, solemnly, "It's very mysterious. They don't know exactly why themselves. I've been in their churches, I've read their gospel. Do you know who Christ was? A simple Jew like your father, a kind of Hassid." She said "You're kidding me." He said, "No. And I bet they'd get along fine, the two of them because he was really a good Jew, a merciful man and gentle. The Christians say they love him. But I think they hate him without knowing it so they take the cross by the other end and make a sword out of it and strike us with it. You understand, Golda," he cried suddenly strangely excited, "they take the cross and turn it around, they turn it around, my God." She said, "Quiet, they will hear you." He went on, "You understand, Golda, he was a little old fashioned Jew, a real just man, you know, no more no less then that. And it's true, he and your father would have gotten along together. I can see them so well together, you know. Now your father would say, 'Now my good Rabbi, doesn't it break your heart to see all of that?' And the other would tug at his beard and say 'But you know very well my good Samuel that the Jewish heart must break a thousand times for the greater good of all peoples. That is why we were chosen, didn't you know.' And your father would say, 'Didn't I know, didn't I know. Oh, excellent Rabbi, that's all I do know, alas.'" We have to stop it. We have to stop turning the cross around, stop punishing people in the name of God and we have to form communities of faith in which there are no illusions, in which we try to think clearly and pray well, in which we ponder our brokenness and know our need of God and our need for repentance and our need to be responsible.

In Matthew's gospel is the line, "His blood be upon us and on our children." Now you can take those invectives or polemics and isolate them to a particular time, that does not mean that it means the same thing that we mean by it. Anti-Semitism is an activity against Jews because they exist. The anti-Judaism of the new testament is against those Jews who rejected Jesus Christ, that specific purpose, but not against a whole people because they exist.

The Holocaust represents a failure of Christiandom of the churches, a complete failure, a falling apart of it, but there are other examples of other failures in the past so I would never defend institutional churches.

I think that's part of the Facing History and Ourselves Program is to understand the complexity of and the inclusiveness of the crime and a good deal of attention is placed on the intention of say the ideology behind it. Jews were targeted because they existed and that's a crime like of which has never been known before. People were killed for religious or political or governmental or sociological reasons. But just the fact that a person existed was a measure of cruelty that was cruelty for its own sake. When a Jewish child will be taken and spared the flames by being crushed against a brick wall when that is regarded as an act of mercy, what kind of a world do we live in? When Jews will be taken out of, elderly Jews, ninety year old Jews at the point of death, a nursing home or rest home and put on a cattle car to an extermination center when they would have been dead in no time. Which is cruelty for cruelty sake, so it's the nature of the crime. Because Jews were regarded as non humans, not sub humans, non humans, a deep dark conspiracy.

I think the way to approach this is not to minimize or to focus only on one aspect but rather to see the universality through the particular. Elie Wiesel talks about that a lot. He said you can get at the universal only through the particular. And it seems to me once the people get involved and the nature of the crime, the war against the Jews, then one is able to see the various aspects of others. Who were the first moralists to go to Cambodia? It was the Holocaust survivors. Wiesel went to Cambodia. Alert the world as forward observers, forward moral observers to the terrible things that are happening. I think its these from most of all in Holocaust study and contemplation that are most able to identify these others and see the enormity of it.

So we are involved not only because other Catholics were victims but we are also involved because other Catholics were perpetrators. And that's a terrible hard lesson to have to learn, an awful lesson. That's the burden that we have to bear. You just opened up the two aspects for Catholics say, I am responsible because other Catholics suffered and died too, and they were heroes, but I am also responsible because other Catholics were villains as well and did something in the name of God, some of them. Hitler said, "I am serving divine providence in persecuting the Jews." So its a terrible burden. Hannah Arendt says we are responsible for the burdens of events placed upon us.

Holocaust, we're talking about in this history the crime without a name. The crime the likes of which has never been known before. If it becomes trivialized or relativized or analogized, it loses its intensity and meaning and we don't face the history and then we don't face ourselves.

Thank you all.

A song from Rosalie Gerut and a moment of silence ends the program.

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Text mounted 18 March 2015.-- rcwh.